Brazil: Plane Carrying 7 Indigenous People Disappear In Amazon

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

A plane carrying seven indigenous people disappeared in the Amazon rainforest, but few in Brazil are talking about it

Area where the plane disappeared in Amapá, northern Brazil | Image: Reproduction/Google Maps

On December 2nd, a small plane took off around Matawaré village, deep in the Amazon rainforest, in the northern state of Amapá. On board was an indigenous woman of the Akuriyó group, her son-in-law, and a family of the Tiriyó group – a teacher, his wife, and three small children. The pilot was Jeziel Barbosa de Moura, 61, who is experienced in the region.

The region’s indigenous people frequently fly from the most remote villages to the town of Laranjal do Jari, located 265 km away from the state capital, Macapá (the journey by car from one to the other takes around four hours). A one-hour chartered flight costs around 3000 Brazilian reais (around 770 USD).

Twenty-five minutes after takeoff, Jeziel sent a radio message saying that he needed to make an emergency landing. Radar contact with the plane was lost after that. According to information from the news outlet G1, he was flying clandestinely without having previously disclosed a flight plan.

Fifteen days after the plane went missing, the Brazilian Air Force announced they were suspending searches for survivors. The mission amounted to 128 hours of flight in total. Two planes and a helicopter searched an area of 12,000 km2, roughly equivalent to 12,000 football pitches. However, the thick forest made the work difficult.

According to state news agency Agência Brasil, friends of the pilot and indigenous people from four groups – Apalai, Akuriyó, Tiriyó and Waiana – continued the search on their own, on the ground, until a month after the disappeareance, in January 2. The Association of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Amapá State and Northern Pará published a message condemning the Air Force’s decision to suspend the search.

The group recalled that the improvement of landing strips for indigenous communities is a longstanding issue. This negligence could have hindered rescue searches. G1 reports that there are 49 landing strips yet to be brought up to official standards in indigenous territories across Brazil, according to the Federal Prosecution’s Office. In Amapá state alone, “there are 17 irregular strips, which are used for the transport of health and education professionals, and indigenous people themselves”.

This case, although noted by some national websites and newspapers, has not made to the main headlines in Brazil. Eight people disappeared in the world’s largest rainforest and most of the country has not even heard about it.

The families

G1, a large mainstream online news site in Brazil that has been following the case, talked to relatives of passengers and the pilot. All of them said they were in “despair” and that they were waiting for help from the Army to search for the disappeared in the thick forest. The fear is heightened because it is a race against time.

The pilot’s daughter, Flávia Moura, said:

My father knows the region, he has been flying for a long time, so we know that he tried to land somewhere, but that in the forest it is difficult to find. We know the difficulty of air rescue, but we want to find him, and so we gathered some miners and indigenous friends of my father, who are in the forest. But we want help from the Army which is prepared for this.

Sataraki Akuriyó, son of the oldest passenger on board told the website:

My mother I won’t see again, and so I wanted to find at least the plane or her body. Since they fell I have been suffering a lot.

Silence

On the same day the Air Forced announced the end of the searches, then president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who took office on January 1st, declared his intention to revise the demarcation of the indigenous reserve Raposa Terra do Sol, so that it can be exploited it in a “rational way”.

Within the reserve’s 1.7 million hectares, there are around 17,000 indigenous people from five groups – Macuxi, Wapixana, Ingarikó, Taurepang and Patamona. In an article, lawyer Lucio Augusto Villela da Costa recalled that the area is “known for being rich in minerals such as tin, diamonds, gold, niobium, zinc, caulim, amethyst, copper, diatomite, barytes, molybdenum, titanium, limestone, as well as having the second largest reserve of uranium on the planet.”

The idea of exploiting the lands, according to specialists, is “unconstitutional” under Brazilian law. His plan would go against the article of Brazil’s 1988 Constitution which provides the right for indigenous people to “maintain lands, way of life, and traditions”.

The website De Olho nos Ruralistas (“eye on the ruralists”, in English) which reports on conflicts over land and politics in Brazil, interviewed the anthropologist Denise Fajardo, researcher at the Institute for Research and Training in Indigenous Education, about the case of the disappeared plane. For her, the current political approach and the way that the case has been reported are not isolated:

The matter is not being discussed because the lives of indigenous people is not important at the moment, we are living through an anti-indigenous time and they are considered to be an obstacle to the country’s development. We can draw parallels even with the children lost in a cave in Thailand, which has had more attention from the press.

She added that indigenous people from the region often leave their villages to deal with personal matters and that there they feel isolated.

The Tumucumaque National Park is a small area which belongs to them and was where the state put them, or rather where the state isolated them. The region is difficult to access and no means of transport are provided to this population, who stay confined there to the village.

The village Mataware, where the disappeared plane left from, is only accessible bycanoe or plane. In the night of 17 December, another plane carrying indigenous passengers had an accident in the Amazon. This time, near the border with Peru. The three passengers were rescued alive by the Air Force.

Amazon facial recognition mistakenly confused 28 Congressmen with known criminals

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNET NEWS)

(WHAT, ONLY 28?)

Amazon facial recognition mistakenly confused 28 Congressmen with known criminals

The ACLU says it’s evidence that Congress should step in. Amazon says the ACLU didn’t test properly.

BY 

amazon-cloud-cam-2
Chris Monroe/CNET

Amazon is trying to sell its Rekognition facial recognition technology to law enforcment, but the American Civil Liberties Union doesn’t think that’s a very good idea. And today, the ACLU provided some seemingly compelling evidence — by using Amazon’s own tool to compare 2,500 criminal mugshots to members of Congress.

Sure enough, Amazon’s tool thought 28 different members of Congress looked like people who’ve been arrested.

false-matches-graphic-1
ACLU

Here’s the full list, according to the ACLU:

Senate

  • Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia)
  • Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts)
  • Pat Roberts (R-Kansas)

House

  • Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia)
  • G. K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina)
  • Lacy Clay (D-Missouri)
  • Mark DeSaulnier (D-California)
  • Adriano Espaillat (D-New York)
  • Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona)
  • Tom Garrett (R-Virginia)
  • Greg Gianforte (R-Montana)
  • Jimmy Gomez (D-California)
  • Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona)
  • Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois)
  • Steve Knight (R-California)
  • Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey)
  • John Lewis (D-Georgia)
  • Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey)
  • Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa)
  • David McKinley (R-West Virginia)
  • John Moolenaar (R-Michigan)
  • Tom Reed (R-New York)
  • Bobby Rush (D-Illinois)
  • Norma Torres (D-California)
  • Marc Veasey (D-Texas)
  • Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio)
  • Steve Womack (R-Arkansas)
  • Lee Zeldin (R-New York)

That’s a lot of Congresspeople who may soon have some very valid questions about facial recognition and its potential to be abused — particularly since Amazon thinks the ACLU didn’t use it properly to begin with!

Rep. Jimmy Gomez

@RepJimmyGomez

Did you see this? @amazon face surveillance technology FALSELY matched me w/ someone else’s mugshot. I’m outraged & worried by the impact this tool will have on when put in the hands of law enforcement! @JeffBezos: We need to talk ASAP. https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/amazons-face-recognition-falsely-matched-28 

Amazon’s Face Recognition Falsely Matched 28 Members of Congress With Mugshots

Amazon’s face surveillance technology is the target of growing opposition nationwide, and today, there are 28 more causes for concern. In a test the ACLU recently conducted of the facial recognition…

aclu.org

It turns out that the ACLU got its mugshot matches by using the Rekognition software at its default 80-percent confidence threshold setting, rather than the 95-percent plus confidence level that Amazon recommends for law enforcement agencies.

“While 80 percent confidence is an acceptable threshold for photos of hot dogs, chairs, animals, or other social media use cases, it wouldn’t be appropriate for identifying individuals with a reasonable level of certainty. When using facial recognition for law enforcement activities, we guide customers to set a threshold of at least 95 percent or higher,” an Amazon spokesperson told CNET by email.

But an ACLU lawyer tells CNET that Amazon doesn’t necessarily steer law enforcement agencies toward that higher threshold — if a police department uses the software, it’ll be set to the same 80-percent threshold by default and won’t ask them to change it even if they intend to use it to identify criminals. “Amazon makes no effort to ask users what they are using Rekognition for,” says ACLU attorney Jacob Snow.

employee-verification
The ACLU says that even when it comes to facial recognition for security purposes, Amazon’s website suggests that the 80-percent confidence threshold is sufficent.

Screenshot by ACLU

A source close to the matter tells CNET that when Amazon works with law enforcment agencies directly, like the Orlando Police Department, it teaches them how to reduce false positives and avoid human bias. But there’s nothing to necessarily keep other agencies from simply using the tool the same way the ACLU did, instead of developing a relationship with Amazon.

It’s worth noting that false positives are (currently!) an accepted part of facial recognition technology. Nobody — including the ACLU — is saying police would arrest someone based on a false match alone. Facial recognition narrows down the list of suspects, and then humans take over. Recently, facial recognition helped ID the Russian assassins who poisoned a spy in the UK, as well as the Capital Gazette shooter.

And Amazon didn’t actually create that many false positives even at the 80 percent confidence ratio, compared to, say, the UK Metropolitan Police’s facial recognition tech.

But the ACLU worries that Amazon’s false positives might bias a police officer or government agent to search, question or potentially draw a weapon when they shouldn’t — and we’ve all seen how those encounters can turn deadly. And the ACLU notes that Amazon’s tech seems to have over-represented people of color.

The ACLU also provided CNET this statement:

Amazon seems to have missed, or refuses to acknowledge, the broader point: facial recognition technology in the hands of government is primed for abuse and raises significant civil rights concerns. It could allow – and in some cases has already enabled – police to determine who attends protests, ICE to continuously monitor immigrants, and cities to routinely track their own residents, whether they have reason to suspect criminal activity or not. Changing the threshold from 80 to 95 percent doesn’t change that. In fact, it could exacerbate it.

Should Congress regulate facial recognition? Microsoft thinks so, and now 28 members of Congress have some very personal food for thought — 95-percent confidence threshold or no.

In the hours since the ACLU’s test was brought to light, five Congressmen have sent letters to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking for answers and an immediate meeting. You can read the letters here.

Update, 12:44 a.m. PT: Added that five Congressmen have sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos letters with questions about the facial recognition tech. Also added that Amazon’s tech appears to have over-represented people of color, according to the ACLU.

Canadian Man Lynched in the Amazon After Being Accused of Murdering a Shaman

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

 

By CASEY QUACKENBUSH

5:16 AM EDT

A Canadian man was reportedly killed in the Peruvian Amazon after indigenous community members blamed him for the death of a spiritual leader.

According to Peruvian prosecutors, the body of Sebastian Woodroffe, 41, was found by police after a video of his lynching surfaced on social media Friday, Reuters reports. Video footage reportedly shows a man in a puddle before another man wraps a rope around his neck and dragged him as onlookers watched.

Woodroffe’s body was found 0.6 miles away from the home of Olivia Arévalo, the spiritual leader of the Shipibo-Conibo tribe and an indigenous rights activist. The 81-year-old died Thursday after being shot twice, and some members of the outraged community blamed her apparent murder on Woodroffe, who was believed to have been one of her clients.

Canada’s foreign affairs department offered its “deepest condolences following the reported assassination of Olivia Arévalo Lomas, an indigenous elder and human rights defender,” Reuters reports.

Arévalo’s death follows a slew of unresolved murders of indigenous activists who were threatened for opposing illegal loggers and palm oil growers, according to Reuters. There is little oversight in the Peruvian Amazon where local communities often punish suspected criminals according to local customs without official state involvement.

“We will not rest until both murders, of the indigenous woman as well as the Canadian man, are solved,” Ricardo Palma Jimenez, the head prosecutor in Ucayali, told Reuters.

‘world’s richest 1% get 82% of the wealth,’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNBC)

 

Inequality gap widens as ‘world’s richest 1% get 82% of the wealth,’ Oxfam says

  • Approximately 82 percent of the money generated last year went to the richest 1 percent of the global population, the report said, while the poorest half saw no increase at all
  • Last year, Oxfam said billionaires would have seen an uptick of $762 billion — enough to end extreme poverty seven times over
  • The report is timely as the global political and business elite gather in snow-clad Davos for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this week

Superyachts and other smaller luxury vessels sit moored in the Port de Fontvieille in Monaco, on Monday, May 18, 2015.

Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Superyachts and other smaller luxury vessels sit moored in the Port de Fontvieille in Monaco, on Monday, May 18, 2015.

Just 42 people own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 50 percent worldwide, a new study by global charity Oxfam claimed.

In a report published Monday, Oxfam called for action to tackle the growing gap between the super-rich and the rest of the world. Approximately 82 percent of the money generated last year went to the richest 1 percent of the global population, the report said, while the poorest half saw no increase at all.

The report is timely as the global political and business elite gathers in snow-clad Davos for the World Economic Forum‘s annual meeting this week, which aims to promote responsive and responsible leadership.

‘Increasingly concentrated’

Oxfam said its figures, which some observers have criticized, showed economic rewards were “increasingly concentrated” at the top. The charity cited tax evasion, the erosion of worker’s rights, cost-cutting and businesses’ influence on policy decisions as reasons for the widening inequality gap.

The charity also found the wealth of billionaires had increased by 13 percent a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015. Last year, billionaires would have seen an uptick of $762 billion — enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. It also claimed nine out of 10 of the world’s 2,043 billionaires were men.

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David Ryder | Getty Images

Booming global stock markets were seen as the main driver for a surge in wealth among those holding financial assets last year. The founder of AmazonJeff Bezos, saw his wealth balloon by $6 billion in the first 10 days of 2017 — leading to a flood of headlines marking him as “the richest man of all time.”

‘Something is very wrong’

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said the statistics signal “something is very wrong with the global economy.”

“The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hard-working people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food,” he added.

Oxfam has published similar reports over the past five years. At the start of 2017, Oxfam said eight billionaires from around the globe had as much money as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. Improved data has seen last year’s figure revised to 61, but the charity said the trend of widening inequality was still evident.

The report, “Reward Work, Not Health,” is based on data from Forbes and the annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth datebook, which has detailed the distribution of global wealth since 2000.

Check out the world leaders and celebrities that are going to Davos this year

Larry Busacca | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

The survey assesses a person’s wealth based on the value of an individual’s assets — mainly property and land — minus any debts they may hold. The data excludes wages and income to determine what he or she is perceived to own. This methodology has attracted criticism in the past, as a student with high debt levels and a high future earning potential would classify as poor under the current criteria.

Nonetheless, Oxfam said even if the wealth of the poorest half of the population was recalculated to remove the people in net debt, their combined wealth would still be equal to 128 billionaires.

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The Amazon-Walmart Showdown That Explains the Modern Economy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Credit Antonio de Luca

With Amazon buying the high-end grocery chain Whole Foods, something retail analysts have known for years is now apparent to everyone: The online retailer is on a collision course with Walmart to try to be the predominant seller of pretty much everything you buy.

Each one is trying to become more like the other — Walmart by investing heavily in its technology, Amazon by opening physical bookstores and now buying physical supermarkets. But this is more than a battle between two business titans. Their rivalry sheds light on the shifting economics of nearly every major industry, replete with winner-take-all effects and huge advantages that accrue to the biggest and best-run organizations, to the detriment of upstarts and second-fiddle players.

That in turn has been a boon for consumers but also has more worrying implications for jobs, wages and inequality.

To understand this epic shift, you can look not just to the grocery business, but to my closet, and to another retail acquisition announced Friday morning.

Continue reading the main story

Men’s dress clothing, mine included, can be a little boring. Like many male office workers, I lean toward clothes that are sharp but not at all showy. Nearly every weekday, I wear a dress shirt that is either light blue, white or has some subtle check pattern, usually paired with slacks and a blazer. The description alone could make a person doze.

I used to buy my dress shirts from a Hong Kong tailor. They fit perfectly, but ordering required an awkward meeting with a visiting salesman in a hotel suite. They took six weeks to arrive, and they cost around $120 each, which adds up fast when you need to buy eight or 10 a year to keep up with wear and tear.

Then several years ago I realized that a company called Bonobos was making shirts that fit me nearly as well, that were often sold three for $220, or $73 each, and that would arrive in two days.

Bonobos became my main shirt provider, at least until recently, when I learned that Amazon was trying to get into the upper-end men’s shirt game. The firm’s “Buttoned Down” line, offered to Amazon Prime customers, uses high-quality fabric and is a good value at $40 for basic shirts. I bought a few; they don’t fit me quite as well as the Bonobos, but I do prefer the stitching.

I’m on the fence as to which company will provide my next shirt order, and a new deal this week makes it a doubly interesting quandary: Walmart is buying Bonobos.

Amazon vs. Walmart

Walmart’s move might seem a strange decision. It is not a retailer people typically turn to for $88 summer weight shirts in Ruby Wynwood Plaid or $750 Italian wool suits. Then again, Amazon is best known as a reseller of goods made by others.

Walmart and Amazon have had their sights on each other for years, each aiming to be the dominant seller of goods — however consumers of the future want to buy them. It increasingly looks like that “however” is a hybrid of physical stores and online-ordering channels, and each company is coming at the goal from a different starting point.

Amazon is the dominant player in online sales, and is particularly strong among affluent consumers in major cities. It is now experimenting with physical bookstores and groceries as it looks to broaden its reach.

Walmart has thousands of stores that sell hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods. It is particularly strong in suburban and rural areas and among low- and middle-income consumers, but it’s playing catch-up with online sales and affluent urbanites.

Why are these two mega-retailers both trying to sell me shirts? The short answer is because they both want to sell everything.

More specifically, Bonobos is known as an innovator in exactly this type of hybrid of online and physical store sales. Its website and online customer service are excellent, and it operates stores in major cities where you can try on garments and order items to be shipped directly. Because all the actual inventory is centralized, the stores themselves can occupy minimal square footage.

So the acquisition may help Walmart build expertise in the very areas where it is trying to gain on Amazon. You can look at the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods through the same lens. The grocery business has a whole different set of challenges from the types of goods that Amazon has specialized in; you can’t store a steak or a banana the way you do books or toys. And people want to be able to make purchases and take them home on the spur of the moment.

Photo

Credit Neil Irwin

Just as Walmart is using Bonobos to get access to higher-end consumers and a more technologically savvy way of selling clothes, Amazon is using Whole Foods to get the expertise and physical presence it takes to sell fresh foods.

But bigger dimensions of the modern economy also come into play.

A Positive Returns-to-Scale World

The apparel business has long been a highly competitive industry in which countless players could find a niche. Any insight that one shirt-maker developed could be rapidly copied by others, and consumer prices reflected the retailer’s real estate costs and branding approach as much as anything.

That helps explain why there are thousands of options worldwide for someone who wants a decent-quality men’s shirt. In that world, any shirt-maker that tried to get too big rapidly faced diminishing returns. It would have to pay more and more to lease the real estate for far-flung stores, and would have to outbid competitors to hire all the experienced shirt-makers. The expansion wouldn’t offer any meaningful cost savings and would entail a lot more headaches trying to manage it all.

But more and more businesses in the modern economy, rather than reflecting those diminishing returns to scale, show positive returns to scale: The biggest companies have a huge advantage over smaller players. That tends to tilt markets toward a handful of players or even a monopoly, rather than an even playing field with countless competitors.

The most extreme example of this would be the software business, where a company can invest bottomless sums in a piece of software, but then sell it to each additional customer for practically nothing. The apparel industry isn’t that extreme — the price of making a shirt is still linked to the cost of fabric and the workers to do the stitching — but it is moving in that direction.

And that helps explain why Walmart and Amazon are so eager to put a shirt on my back.

Already, retailers need to figure out how to manage sophisticated supply chains connecting Southeast Asia with stores in big American cities so that they rarely run out of product. They need mobile apps and websites that offer a seamless user experience so that nothing stands between a would-be purchaser and an order.

Larger companies that are good at supply chain management and technology can spread those more-or-less fixed costs around more total sales, enabling them to keep prices lower than a niche player and entrench their advantage.

These positive returns to scale could become even more pronounced. Perhaps in the future, rather than manufacture a bunch of shirts in Indonesia and Malaysia and ship them to the United States to be sold one at a time to urban office workers, a company will have a robot manufacture shirts to my specifications somewhere nearby.

If that’s the future of clothing, and quite a few companies are working on just that, apparel will become a landscape of high fixed costs and enormous returns to scale. The handful of companies with the very best shirt-making robots will win the market, and any company that can’t afford to develop shirt-making robots, or isn’t very good at it, might find itself left in the cold.

What It Means for the Economy

If retail were the only industry becoming more concentrated, it would be one thing. But a relative few winners are taking a disproportionate share of business in a wide range of industries, including banking, airlines and telecommunications. A study by the Obama White House’s Council of Economic Advisers found that in 12 of 13 industry sectors, the share of revenue earned by the 50 largest firms rose between 1997 and 2012.

That in turn may help explain why the income gap has widened in recent years. Essentially, the corporate world is bifurcating between winners and losers, with big implications for their workers.

Research by Jae Song of the Social Security administration and four colleagues found that most of the rise of inequality in pay from 1978 to 2013 was because some companies were paying more than others — not because of a wider gap between high-paid and low-paid workers within a company.

“Employees inside winning companies enjoy rising incomes and interesting cognitive challenges,” the Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom, one of the co-authors of that paper, wrote recently in Harvard Business Review. “Workers outside this charmed circle experience something quite different.”

And David Autor of M.I.T. and four colleagues found in a recent paper that the rise of these “superstar firms” — the big winners in the kind of face-off that Walmart and Amazon are now engaged in — is a likely explanation for the decrease in the share of the overall economic pie that is going to workers.

How much of that is because of shifting technology — as opposed to changing corporate behavior, or loose antitrust policy — is an open debate.

What isn’t is this: The decision by Amazon and Walmart to compete for my grocery business — as well as for space in my closet — are tiny battles in a war to dominate a changing global economy.

And for companies that can’t compete on price and technology, it could cost them the shirt off their backs.

Brazil To Allow 100% Foreign Ownership Of Domestic Airlines

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Brazil to sign decree for full international ownership in airlines: source

Brazilian President Michel Temer will sign on Tuesday a decree allowing foreign companies to own 100 percent of local airlines, as part of measures aimed at increasing investment in the tourism industry, a government source told Reuters on Monday.

Temer will sign the decree at a ceremony with the Tourism Minister Marx Beltrão, the source said.

Reuters first reported in January that the government was drafting the measure.

Last year, former President Dilma Rousseff issued a decree lifting the limit on foreign ownership of airlines to 49 percent from 20 percent.

As part of the new measures the government will also, according to the source, subsidize airlines to fly to remote areas that are poorly served by flights, such as parts of the Amazon.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri)

At Least 60 Inmates Killed in Brazil Prison Riot

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME MAGAZINE)

At Least 60 Inmates Killed in Brazil Prison Riot

“This is the biggest prison massacre in our state’s history”

(RIO DE JANEIRO) — At least 60 inmates died during a prison riot in the northern state of Amazonas, including several who were beheaded or dismembered, Brazilian state authorities said Monday.

State public security secretary Sergio Fontes said that in addition to the deaths, some inmates escaped, but he did not say how many. Several prison guards were held hostage.

“This is the biggest prison massacre in our state’s history,” Fontes said during a press conference. The riot began Sunday afternoon and lasted until Monday morning.

Two of the biggest crime gangs of Brazil began fighting last year over control of several prisons and authorities in Amazonas believe that’s the reason behind the first riot of 2017.

Fontes said the inmates made few demands to end the riot, which hints at a killing spree organized by members of a local gang against those of another that is based in Sao Paulo.

The secretary said officers found a hole in a prison wall through which authorities believe weapons entered the building.

Fontes confirmed that many of the dead had been beheaded and Judge Luis Carlos Valois, who negotiated the end of the riot with inmates, said he saw many bodies that were quartered.

“I never saw anything like that in my life. All those bodies, the blood,” Valois wrote on Facebook.

Valois said that during the negotiations, inmates only asked “that we did not transfer them, made sure they were not attacked and kept their visitation.”

The riot ended after the inmates freed the last of the 12 prison staffers they had held hostage, Valois said.

In another prison in Amazonas, 87 inmates escaped in the first hours of Monday, Fonte said.

One of the inmates posted a picture on Facebook as he left the prison.

Jewish Culture Surviving In The Amazonian Rain Forest

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

After their ancestors journeyed across an ocean from the edge of the Sahara to the center of the Amazon, their current numbers have dwindled in the wake of grim economic prospects and geographic isolation. Yet the pulse keeps beating for the Jewish community of Iquitos, Peru.

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“We as a community in Iquitos are trying to create a Jewish life, which is not easy, because the conditions for it do not exist,” said community leader Rebecca Abramovitz in an interview in Spanish.

Located in Loreto, Peru’s northernmost region, Iquitos is the largest city in the world unreachable by road. Visitors must either fly in or arrive by boat along the Amazon River.

Jews constitute only a fraction of a percent of the city’s population, which numbered just under 440,000 last year. The Jewish community of Iquitos consists of about 70 individuals, led by president Jorge Abramovitz, Rebecca’s husband. (There is also a smaller population of under 40 Jews in the city of Pucallpa to the south.)

The Iquitos community does not have a rabbi, and meets for worship in the Abramovitz house. Its members represent a fraction of the hundreds of people who once practiced Judaism by the banks of the Amazon.

Yet if their numbers are small, their story is compelling. They are the descendants of entrepreneurs who left Morocco for the promise of riches in the Amazon rubber boom in the late 19th century. Their Judaism has been revived by visits from rabbis elsewhere in Peru, as well as Argentina, the United States and Israel. Some have even undertaken another journey, to Israel, where they have made aliyah or are striving to do so.

Rebecca Abramovitz, wife of the president of the Jewish community of Iquitos, Peru, prepares a traditional Peruvian pastry called ‘bolitas’ as members of the community watch, in this April 2015 photo. (Facebook)

Earlier this year, a media report had forecast a bleak future for the community. But those members who stay in Iquitos continue to practice Judaism together, and regularly convene for events such as High Holiday services. In so doing, they preserve their ties with their ancestors who arrived in the Peruvian Amazon almost 150 years ago.

The first Jew to immigrate to Loreto was Alfredo Coblentz, a German Jew who arrived in the city of Yurimaguas, southwest of Iquitos, in 1880. In 1885, the first year of the Amazon rubber boom, the Pinto brothers — Moses, Abraham and Jaime — immigrated to Iquitos itself. While they only lived there for five years, “they opened the road for the arrival of new immigrants,” Abramovitz said.

The rubber boom caused a mass migration of people representing different countries and religions.


Rabbi Ruben Saferstein, of Buenos Aires. (Facebook)

“It brought businessmen and rubber workers from distinct regions of the world [to Iquitos], and among them, Jews from Morocco came,” said Rabbi Ruben Saferstein of Buenos Aires, who has been assisting the Jews of Iquitos for 15 years.

It was not an easy journey. Jews from Rabat, Tetuan, Tangier and Casablanca arrived in the Brazilian coastal city of Belen do Para and trekked along the Amazon — the second-longest river in the world, after the Nile — further inland to Manaus.

From there, Abramovitz said, “they scattered throughout the Peruvian Amazonian rainforest.”

Iquitos: Peru’s rubber boom town

“There was a tremendous amount of money to be made there, in the rubber industry in the Amazon, in Peru and Brazil,” said Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Jerusalem-based director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel for the Masorti Movement, who visited Iquitos last Pesach.

Luxurious mansions soon lined the streets of Iquitos, including the Casa Fierro (Iron House) designed by Gustave Eiffel, whose namesake tower in Paris earned architectural immortality. The Casa Fierro remains an Iquitos landmark.

But the rubber boom also had adverse effects. One Iquitos-based company with a British board of directors, the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC), was the subject of critical reports by Roger Casement, the British consul in Peru. Casement found that the PAC abused its indigenous workers. After public outcry, the company closed in 1913.

The Amazon rubber boom itself had collapsed by 1912, owing to several factors, including a drop in the price of rubber; the emergence of larger zones of production, such as Indonesia; and the arrival of synthetic rubber.

Many Jews in Iquitos returned to their countries of origin — but not all.

By January 1909, enough Jews had begun residing in Iquitos to establish a formal community, the Sociedad Beneficencia Israelita de Iquitos.

In Iquitos, Jews achieved success in both business and public life. Several became mayors of the city, including Victor Israel (who was also the first community president) and Joseph Dreyfus. Some founded businesses — La Casa Israel, Khan, and Cohen, along with Solomon Joseph and E. Strasberger.

The Jews who stayed after the boom were in an uncertain position. The rubber industry that fueled their commerce with Europe had vanished, and their legacy as Jews was in question.

“The great majority of Jews who came [to Iquitos] were men who could not leave Jewish descendants because they could not take Jewish women as wives, and settled down with women of the region,” Abramovitz said. However, she added, “they undoubtedly tried to keep their Jewish identity and pass it on to their children.”


The community celebrates Purim, 2016. (Facebook)

Each year, she said, the Jews of the region celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with religious services.

But their numbers plummeted.

Abramovitz said that emigration to the capital of Lima was “massive” in the 1950s, and by the 1960s, centers of Jewish life in almost every Peruvian province had disappeared.

“Our community stayed dormant for many years,” she recalled.

A sleeper community awakens

It was not until the 1980s that the community of Iquitos was able to reawaken.
When several community members traveled to Lima, Peru’s capital, for medical treatments in 1987, they made contact with Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein, chief rabbi of the Asociacion Judia. Lima has the largest population of Peruvian Jews (3,000), and with about 223 families, Bronstein’s synagogue is the largest in the capital.

In a Skype conversation from Lima, Bronstein told The Times of Israel he felt “curiosity” and that he exchanged letters with the community of Iquitos before deciding to visit in 1991. Then, Bronstein found a community of people who wished to identify as Jews but were not recognized as Jews.


The community lights Hanukkah candles with Rabbi Ruben Saferstein. (Facebook)

As Sacks described it, “there is a large percentage of people in that town who have a Jewish grandparent or great-grandparent, [and are now] practicing Catholics, who have recently connected to a Jewish community or to the Jewish world.”

When Bronstein made his first visit to Iquitos, he laid the groundwork for the community to formally confirm its Judaism — individually and collectively. Members organized themselves as a kehila, a Jewish community of partners recognized by the Republic of Peru. They achieved this status about a year and a half later, in 1994.

Bronstein then helped the kehila prepare for a formal conversion by a beit din, or rabbinical court. This process took much longer.

“It was 11 years after [my first visit],” he said. “It was very difficult. I couldn’t visit there [more than] two or three times in 11 years. I sent them materials, siddurim [prayer books]. They wrote to me with their [preparation] work.”


Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein speaks at a 70th anniversary gathering of the Peruvian Biblical Society. (Facebook)

These were not the only challenges.

“Circumcision was the hardest of all,” Bronstein said. “The adults did not have a mohel [circumciser].” And, he added, a mohel he located in Lima “was not going to go for less than a month for 40 to 50 people.”

‘Circumcision was the hardest of all’

By August 2002, Bronstein had found a qualified mohel willing to travel to Iquitos. A beit din followed, assisted by Rabbi Claudio Kupchik of Temple Beth El of Manhattan Beach.

“If we had not had the help of Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein, the community of Iquitos would not still exist,” Abramovitz said.

About a century after Jews had first arrived in Iquitos, the kehila and its members were formally recognized. Over the next few years, the congregation benefited from outreach by rabbis from other countries.


Rebecca Abramovitz holds the Iquitos Torah scroll in 2010. (Facebook)

In December 2004, Bronstein presided over a second beit din with his brother Marcelo, who serves as a rabbi in New York, as well as Saferstein, of Buenos Aires. Over three days, they evaluated around 180 candidates from Iquitos and neighboring regions.

In February 2009, the kehila received a Torah scroll over 100 years old from Rabbi Fabian Zaidemberg of La Asociacion Israelita de las Pampas in Argentina. David and Nilma Igdaloff, an American Jewish couple, had donated the Torah to Zaidemberg after it had been rescued from Nazi Germany.

A third beit din was held in 2011. And, as the Jews of Iquitos continue to rediscover and reconnect with their roots, there is an increasing interest in making aliyah.

Obstacles toward immigration to Israel

The story of the Amazonian aliyah is an unfolding one and includes community members now living in Israel as citizens, members who would like to make aliyah, and individuals in Israel who are not currently recognized as Israeli citizens.


The historic Jewish cemetery in Iquitos, April 2013. (Facebook)

The Interior Ministry has recognized Iquitos as a Jewish community and its members as eligible for aliyah, but it took a “long battle,” said Sacks, the director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.

The majority of olim from Iquitos live in Ramla.

“The mayor was happy to receive them,” Sacks said. “There were social, employment programs. They were absorbed in order to be more successful.”

However, Sacks is unhappy with the Interior Ministry and its treatment of Jews from Iquitos who wish to join their fellow Iquitenos in Israel.

“The pace of aliyah has slowed to a trickle,” Sacks said. “There have been all sorts of excuses. I found it to be a problem.”

 

Petitioning the Supreme Court

The Legal Aid Center for Olim, a project of the Israel Reform Movement, has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case involving two sisters from Pucallpa who converted to Judaism in Iquitos in 2011. They have been in Israel since February 2014.

“At the moment one of the two sisters from Pucallpa has a working visa after she began a serious relationship with an Israeli and in fact has given birth to his child,” said Nicole Maor, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Center for Olim. “The other sister is here with no status at all, under the protection of a Supreme Court order preventing her deportation.”

The Interior Ministry “has argued that the community in Pucallpa was not a ‘recognized’ community at the time of the conversion and therefore although the conversion itself was performed in Iquitos, they refuse to recognize them,” Maor said.

‘The great majority of Iquitenos have gone to live in Israel’

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the petition in January 2017.

Asked how strong the current desire is to make aliyah among the Jews of Iquitos, Sacks said, “Almost all of the young ones desire to leave. The opportunity to advance professionally and socially is very limited. They seek a second chance everywhere in Latin American countries. Many have gone, and in fact would go, to Israel.”

“The jungle is not a pleasant place to live,” he said. “The opportunities are rather limited. People realize, they are the third generation of a Jewish grandfather, grandmother, and eligible to make aliyah. Many did, many converted to Judaism and ultimately made aliyah. About 150 left for Israel.”

Indeed, he noted, the current community in Iquitos is “much reduced, owing to aliyah.”

“The great majority of Iquitenos [people from Iquitos] have gone to live in Israel,” Saferstein said. “There are some other people who are waiting for their conversion process, and desire to go to Israel, as well, to live there.”


The Jews of Iquitos wave an Israeli flag. (Facebook)

Saferstein expressed hope for another beit din to visit Iquitos in January 2017, but said that economic assistance is needed for this.

Despite gloomy predictions for the future of Iquitos’s Jews due to their shrinking population, Bronstein, who led the first beit din 14 years ago, is more hopeful.

‘They will continue with their Jewish identity. Even if three, four, five people remain, they have the structure, the community’

“They will continue with their Jewish identity,” he said. “They already have an organization. They are smaller, but I believe they will continue. Even if three, four, five people remain, they have the structure, the community.”

Last year, Sacks experienced this community firsthand.

“When I arrived at the airport, probably most of the community, around 40 people were there, with Israeli flags, singing, welcoming me,” he said.

Asked whether the community identifies as Sephardic, he said, “Many of them have a great-grandparent who was Sephardic (usually from Morocco), but the Jews are removed from many of those traditions. They have been Jewishly educated, primarily by Masorti rabbis. So, while they have some Sephardic tunes, it is very much a mix.”

On Shabbat, he said, “The davening was identical to pretty much any other synagogue.”

He joined the community for a Passover seder in the Abramovitz house, with fish and vegetarian options, “no bread on the table” and locally-flavored charoset.


The community gathers for holiday dinner this past Rosh Hashanah. (Facebook)

“They kashered everything,” he said.

He noted a community custom. An Israeli flag is displayed atop a table “every year till the last Jew from Iquitos who wishes to make aliyah is able to do so,” he said.

More recently, the community has been busy again, this time for the High Holidays.

In an October 3 photo of the Rosh Hashanah dinner, over 30 community members are sitting down to eat at tables, welcoming the new year 5777. There are national and international symbols — Peruvian and Israeli flags — as well as religious and cultural decorations such as cutouts of shofars and a glowing Star of David.

As the Jews of Iquitos celebrated the new year, it showed that even in the isolation of the Amazon, a Jewish community can survive. Though its numbers may be diminished, inextinguishable sparks of communal life continue to be stoked on the edge of the rainforest.

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